Where did Vicky Jones erupt from? In 2001 she was a publishing cliche: the well-read, articulate book-lover who dreams of maybe sitting down to write a novel some day. In 2002 she became the one-in-1000 who actually does it, and at that point our story takes a sharp turn into not-in-my-wildest-dreams territory.
In the last three years she has had six novels published, won the New Zealand Post Junior Fiction award, and had her children's fantasy series The Karazan Quartet picked up for international distribution by Puffin.
Her book Juggling with Mandarins has just become the New Zealand selection on the annual honour list of the prestigious International Board on Books for Young People.
Popular children's author Tessa Duder calls her "one of the most exciting children's writers to turn up in New Zealand for years".
In retrospect, Jones says, it all seems curiously inevitable.
"You know how sometimes in your life a whole number of different strands come together, as if something was almost meant to happen ... it was like that."
A contract marketing job had come to its natural end, her two sons were just at the age of needing less of her time — "not needing me less, but needing less from me in a practical sense ... so I suppose I was reworking my role as a mother."
And then children's writer Ken Catran entered the picture. "I went with my elder son to a talk he was giving on writing — a number of kids from his class were interested in writing and they all went along, and they needed a parent to supervise."
Jones enjoyed the experience, but still had an us-and-them sense that writing was something other people did.
"Afterwards I went up to thank him, and almost without thinking I said: 'You are lucky, to write books for a living!' And he gave me an odd little quizzical look, and said: 'It's not very difficult you know, anyone can do it. You should have a try.' It was one of those throwaway remarks — he'd probably made it a thousand times before. But afterwards it came back to me."
Then she was listening casually to the radio one day, and a motivational psychologist happened to be on, and said something that went through her like a lightning bolt.
"He said that for everybody, there is a thing so engrossing that it makes time stop. If you want to be happy in what you do, you have to identify that thing, and if you're able to find a way of doing it for a living, you'll be fulfilled and happy in your life. Instantly, everything jumped into focus. I knew, I didn't have to think. Ever since I was a child writing stories, writing has been that thing for me."
A short while after that, Jones found herself turning to her son while they were out walking and saying, "Guess what: I've decided to write a book."
Buddy, that first book, all but wrote itself. "I wrote a chapter every day for five weeks, and it was finished."
She decided her next project would be a four-book children's fantasy series. "I love fantasy. I was also conscious of the fact that I'd probably have a better chance of breaking through to the international marketplace with fantasy. When I do something, I do feel a need to do it properly, and make as much of a success of it as I can."
Her publishers suggested that given the current appetite for children's fantasy, it would be a good thing to bring out one book every six months. After Buddy, that seemed no great challenge.
Fantasy, Jones discovered, poses challenges all its own.
"It's a much more creatively demanding genre than social realism ... realistic books work within a framework we are all very familiar with, but with fantasy you've got a lot more groundwork to do before you've made it real."
That challenge is part of what she loves in fantasy. At one point in the series, her five young heroes need to use a rainbow as a bridge. "I thought, well that's a bit Enid Blyton. Can I make it work without it seeming twee? The need to do that helped make the books exciting to write."
Children's writing was always the area she was drawn to, even before her sons were born. "Children's literature has a particular magic, and I also think it is hugely important. What we read as children is the foundation for our reading as adults, and it's also the foundation for lots of our beliefs and convictions. We are very much shaped by what we read."
* The Karazan Quartet is The Serpents of Arakesh, Beyond the Shroud, Prince of the Wind. Book four, Quest for the Sun (HarperCollins, $16.99) has just been released.By David Larsen